Anorexia nervosa (say “an-uh-RECK-see-uh nur-VOH-suh”) is a type of eating disorder. People who have anorexia have an intense fear of gaining weight. They severely limit the amount of food they eat and can become dangerously thin as in appearing very lekpa (as most Nigerians would say).
What is Anorexia Nervosa?
According to the National Health Service UK (NHS), Anorexia nervosa is a serious mental health condition. It is an eating disorder in which people keep their body weight as low as possible.
Anorexia affects both the body and the mind. It may start as dieting, but it gets out of control. You think about food, dieting, and weight all the time, more like an “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” (OCD) to stay skinny. You have a distorted body image. Other people say you are too thin, but when you look in the mirror, you see your body as overweight.
When and who does it affect?
Anorexia usually starts in the teen years. It’s much more common in females than males – mostly in our youthful girls who by all means aim to be that “model”. Early treatment can be effective. The earlier it is treated, the better the chances someone can recover from anorexia. Untreated anorexia can lead to starvation and serious health problems, such as bone thinning (osteoporosis), kidney damage, and heart problems. Some people die from these problems.
If you or someone you know has anorexia, get help right away. The longer this problem goes on, the harder it is to overcome. Over time and with treatment, a person with anorexia can feel better and stay at a healthy weight.
Eating disorders are complex, and experts (like us) don’t really know what causes them. But they may be due to a mix of genetics, family behaviors, social factors, and personality traits. You may be more likely to have anorexia if:
- Other people in your family have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa.
- You have a job or do a sport that stresses body size, such as ballet, modeling, or gymnastics.
- You are the type of person who tries to be perfect all the time, never feels good enough, or worries a lot.
- You are dealing with stressful life events, such as divorce, moving to a new town or school, or losing a loved one or having an emotional breakdown from a relationship breakup (funny I know).
People who have anorexia often strongly deny that they have a problem. They don’t see or believe that they do. It’s usually up to their loved ones to get help for them. If you are worried about someone, you can look for certain signs.
Symptoms of anorexia nervosa include:
- Extremely low body weight
- Severe food restriction
- Relentless pursuit of thinness and unwillingness to maintain a normal or healthy weight
- Intense fear of gaining weight
- Distorted body image and self-esteem that is heavily influenced by perceptions of body weight and shape, or a denial of the seriousness of low body weight
- Lack of menstruation among girls and women.
How to Gain Weight If You Are Anorexic
Anorexia nervosa is a mental health condition characterized by a relentless drive for thinness, leading to extreme weight loss from excessive dieting and exercising, says the National Institute of Mental Health. Because anorexics become so underweight, they can develop serious health problems. According to the American Psychological Association, these complications can include anemia, heart palpitations, hair loss, tooth loss, hear attack, kidney failure and even death. Therefore, it is crucial that anorexics get help and gain weight. Certain diet and exercise choices can help with weight gain. Are you are not sure if your weight is healthy? Find out now!
Eat more often. Eating five or six small meals throughout the day rather than three large meals can help you gain weight, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This may also help with the anxiety and stomach discomfort many anorexics feel when they try to suddenly increase meal size as a way to ingest more calories.
Add walnuts, dried fruit or flaxseed to increase the calories in yogurt. Choose higher-calorie foods. Rather than focusing on high-fat, high-sugar foods to increase your caloric intake, pick nutrient-rich foods that still provide substantial calories but will also fuel your body. Dried fruit, avocado, whole-grain granola bars, cheese, nuts and nut butters all provide needed nutrition while pumping up your daily calories (some of the rare food items listed here can be found in the nearest Shoprite store).
Add calories to your cooking. Many recipes can be altered to increase their calorie contents in healthy ways. Stir extra dry milk powder into pasta dishes and creamy soups, add chopped nuts to oatmeal, muffins and salads, top casseroles with bread crumbs or shredded cheese and blend oats or ground flaxseed into fruit smoothies. These calorie-increasing strategies can be less anxiety-provoking for anorexics than obvious and visible additions such as butter on a baked potato or cream in coffee.
Don’t be a foodie! Eat with others. Sharing meals with friends or relatives can help distract you from the sometimes upsetting task of trying to consume more calories. Enjoy the company and conversation, and try to relax as you eat. Never rush your food, it is yours already! (lol)
Enlist the support of your family and friends. Explain your problem to them if possible and ask them to support you in your efforts to gain weight and recover from anorexia. This could mean cooking or grocery shopping with you, sharing a snack or encouraging you to try a new high-calorie food.
Follow the treatment recommendations of a professional with experience treating anorexia. The American Psychological Association says that treatment for anorexia is effective, especially if sought as soon as possible. Psychologists, physicians and dietitians with expertise in treating anorexia can provide invaluable help in your weight gain process. You may want to speak to one of our dietitians.
While these steps provide weight-gain guidance, they are not meant to be a substitute for professional medical or mental health advice. A physician or registered dietitian can provide detailed guidance regarding appropriate weight goals, nutrition and meal planning.